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Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Tall Orders from North of the Border

In a few months, speakers will be invited to Search Engine Strategies Toronto 2005. And the process of understanding why "Canadians don't buy" will begin again.

Here's why. We cannot "buy."

I live a ten-minute drive from one of your finer malls, called Sherway Gardens. Anything you might want is there. So why go online? But you know, if I could, I would. I enjoy shopping online. It saves time.

Even though the Sporting Life in the mall carries everything from Nike tube socks to Prada dog collars... I would shop online, if I could.

Even though I was able to converse with a salesman at the Sony Store to determine just which camera is for me... I might have shopped online for a similar product, if it made any sense.

Even though this mall has wonderful couches, plant life, people-watching opportunities, ample parking, 26 shoe stores, places where you can buy grapefruit hand soap, and a Guess! Store directly below the Famous Wok and Jimmy the Greek... I would shop online, if I could.

Yesterday, Gateway CDI informed me that my recent order from the Google Store ($54 total) would come to $206 if I wanted it shipped to Vancouver, BC. Culprits: Customs duty, $32. "Service charge": $25. Shipping (I'm pretty sure this includes more customs duty): $93.

Sure, there are some things you can buy online here. Amazon.ca carries about half the books, and about half the merchandise, that you can get on Amazon.com. Not bad. Not good, either, if they don't have what you want. They don't have the apparel or food that you can now search for on Amazon.com. Let's hope they roll it out soon.

But the problem is, online is for when you want to go and get anything, I mean anything, on a whim. Like that Guess henley or hoodie that came up when I happened to type henley and hoodie into Amazon.com, just to see what Amazon's store looks like these days. Cool lion logo on the henley: I want it now! Nah, on second thought... they won't give it to me.

If you're outside the US, I defy you to buy, say, this designer hoodie online without incurring monstrous shipping, customs, and other assorted charges. Your pampered teen will be so disappointed.

For better or for worse, I live in a city so large it has nowhere to put its garbage, and John Kerry's making political mileage out of pledging to stop us from shipping it to Michigan (I don't blame him). But I'm still stuck driving to the mall. Baskin-Robbins and Famous Wok are the clear winners here.

As for that Google beach towel, maybe next year. Summer's over anyway.

SES Toronto 2005 isn't until May, but it isn't too early for the e-commerce experts at the shopping engines (etc.) to begin pondering this simple problem. People can't buy stuff if nobody will ship it to them. And if customs duty bumps the price up another 30%. What is needed is more distribution from this side of the border, as Amazon.ca is doing. More of that! More of that!

Now I'll step off that crate of grapefruit hand soap.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Milestones: The Monstrous and the Modest

Google's six. So they enter their seventh year as a publicly-traded company and aiming to become the "#1 portal" of the four main contenders, in spite of only recently admitting (or failing to deny) that they've become rather portal-like. Life-changing and desktop-dominating? Maybe soon. For now, Yahoo and MSN are still "bigger" in various ways, though smaller in search. AOL sees the handwriting on the wall.

This reminds me that just a few days ago, Traffick.com turned five. Cory Kleinschmidt had founded a tutorial site called PortalHub.com early in 1999, and by August, we were just a few (mostly virtual) pals discussing future world domination in an "intranet" we set up using Excite Communities. Early "beta" articles went up in August 1999. The first "official articles" were posted in September 1999. It's creepy to think that a review by non-aligned journalists on the web back then could help a company get another round of funding, or a merger get done.

Make no mistake, they were crazy times. One day, we were comparing online greeting card players as if it were a kind of "cool site of the day" type exercise. Before you knew it, one of those companies was swallowed up for something like $1 billion in stock. 'Twas irrationally exuberant.

For awhile there, many of our reviews and articles were posted in the online press areas of the reviewed companies. One of our friends in the biz (CEO of a vertical search company years ago) went to pitch his tech to a major media company in New York, and he told me that printed copies of my review were sitting in front of everyone at the boardroom table. I said "yeah, sure they were." He said "you've got to learn to take a compliment." Flattering but a bit scary! And always a privilege to be able to explain little-understood technologies and trends to anyone who might be listening, in spite of the complete lack of prestige outside our little corner of the world.

That corner of the world got bigger, and everyone got a bit older and wiser. Clearly, it wasn't all nonsense. Blue Mountain Arts wasn't worth $1 billion. Yahoo! overpaid significantly for Broadcast.com, Geocities, and more. The advertising market collapsed on them and the other portals. But in spite of it all, mostly due to the rebound in advertising (and most of the profits from that coming from search engine advertising), YHOO's now healthy as a horse, and valued at $40 billion. I can't help but be amazed by this.

We now do fewer articles, and focus more on earning a paycheck, but the blogging is still a blast. To longtime readers, your feedback, savvy, and wit has been more than we ever bargained for. We just wish we heard more from you, but we understand you have kids to put to bed and a mortgage to pay, too.

The portal play just won't die, much like those joke candles you can't blow out. See you tomorrow, GOOG and YHOO. You fought. You thought. You won.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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